MSL China Executive Whitepaper

“From collective to individual”

Marketing to the Chinese

70s, 80s and 90s
By Judy Luo and Charlotta Lagerdahl

A changing China
On the back of three decades of spectacular growth and development, China recently became the second largest economy in the world behind the United States. The country has also become a major market for the world’s leading international consumer goods companies. In an increasingly competitive marketplace, companies are becoming more sophisticated in segmenting local stakeholders geographically, and have clear strategies in place for approaching urban versus rural consumers. However, we have found that communications strategies often fail to consider the enormous differences between the consumer “generations” born in each of the last three decades. Due to China’s accelerated changes over the past 30 years, children born in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s have grown up in societies at vastly different stages of development. As we conducted focus groups to uncover what drives these consumers and what their needs are, we discovered that although they grew up in the same country, their world views and views of themselves are very different. Of particular interest for marketing and communications professionals are: ・Disposable funds and consumption habits ・View of world and self ・Discussion topics and interests ・Media consumption In this report, we look at the values, psychology and habits of urban Chinese consumers and draw some operational conclusions for marketers.

About MSL China
Following the union with Eastwei MSL, MSL China is now a top 5 international strategic communications agency in Mainland China. With 200 colleagues across 4 offices, MSL China brings together over 20 senior consultants with more than 12 years of strategic communications experience in this key global market. Part of MSLGROUP Greater China, the largest PR & social media network in the region today, MSL China provides knowledge driven, integrated campaigns and advisory services spanning nearly every industry and communications discipline. MSL China has received recognition from the International Business Awards, The Holmes Report’s “PR Agency of the Year,” the China International PR Association and China’s New Media Festival for its creativity and effectiveness in strategic communications and industry-leading social media offering.

MSLGROUP is Publicis Groupe’s PR, speciality communications and engagement group, advisors in all aspects of communication strategy: from consumer PR to employee communications, from public affairs to reputation management and from crisis communications to event management. With more than 2,900 people, its offices span 22 countries. Adding affiliates and partners into the equation, MSLGROUP’s reach increases to 4,000 employees in 83 countries. Today the largest PR network in Greater China and India, the group offers strategic planning and counsel, insight-guided thinking and big, compelling ideas – followed by thorough execution. Learn more about us at: Twitter+ YouTube

MSL China Executive Whitepaper
Marketing to the Chinese 70s, 80s and 90s generations
1970s Financial pressure Demands from children, spouses and parents Collecting information 1980s Ignoring pressure and live in the now 1990s Pampered by parents and grand parents


1970s: Family before Self
Spending on family
“Family” is the core word for those born in the 1970s. Shaped by a collectivistic society, happiness of the family is rated higher than happiness of the self. But this commitment to family also means responsibilities. This generation grew up when China was still considered a poor country. They now have aging parents, as well as children of their own. They are either settled down and need to cover the rising costs of apartments and mortgages, or are planning to buy housing in the very near future. They save a lot of money; not only to meet their own need for financial security in the face of weak social security and healthcare systems, but also to finance expensive schooling and meet requests for a fancy wedding. be small and gradual. On the other hand, they are highly preoccupied with physical health and will spend considerable time and money to “change” their health for the better.

Internet and information

Coming across information

Creating information

Interested in things related to everyday life
The 70s generation enjoys talking about things that are relevant to everyday life. Examples of such social topics are property prices, popular movies, seasonal fashion trends and cars. But they will not “evangelize” or strive to present their own point of view to others; nor will they try to be original or creative. Their preferred activities focus on things the family can do together, such as “hanging out” and travelling.

Change means insecurity
The 70s generation has neither fancy desires nor an expectation that life will change dramatically. In fact, this group is the least open to change of the three age groups under consideration. The 70s generation interprets “change” as “insecurity” and “lots of work”, and when asked about their immediate surroundings, such as their own home environment, they don’t feel it is possible or necessary to “change”, even if they are dissatisfied with the current state of affairs. If change is unavoidable, they prefer it to

TV is mainly an entertainment tool
The family focus of the 70s generation has an overarching effect on their media habits. Because they spend less time on personal interests than do younger consumers, they try to use this free time as efficiently as possible. For example, they choose to collect information mainly from the internet and print media, while TV is mainly an entertainment tool.

Singapore attracts Chinese families
Over the past three years, MSL China has supported the Singapore Tourism Board, STB, in its campaigns to attract Chinese tourists to visit the country. In an attempt to target affluent consumers born in the 1970s, we decided to launch a promotional package supported by new brand ambassadors in mainland China. Given the priorities of the target group, the theme of the campaign was intimately tied to “family”. The aim was to encourage Chinese families to travel to Singapore together, and the country was positioned – and priced – as a family destination. The choice of brand ambassadors was aligned with the over all strategy: Singapore chose to launch an entire virtual family to show and share the fun, becoming one of the first countries in the world to use virtual spokespersons.

Family before Self


MSL China Executive Whitepaper

1980s: “Why don’t we just enjoy life now!”
Core values Internet outlook

Marketing to the Chinese 70s, 80s and 90s generations


1980s: “Why don’t we just enjoy life now!”
Relaxing from pressure
If “family” is the core word of the Chinese 70s generation, the importance of “friends” is at the heart of being born in the 80s. ”Friends” are the key element of our focus group respondents’ definition of “happiness”. As a result of the one-child policy launched in 1980, they are the first generation to grow up without siblings; this may be one reason that friends and peers have such a significant place in their lives. Known in Chinese as the ba ling hou, “post- eight-zero” generation, this consumer group grew up after reform policies started taking hold. During their lifetime, urban twenty-somethings have therefore experienced perhaps the greatest collective improvement of living standards the world has ever seen. This has made them a unique generation, straddling the “old, poor” and “new, materially affluent” China. The 80s generation experience financial pressure similar to that of the 70s generation(houses, mortgages and expectations of fancy weddings) but they deal with this pressure in a totally different way. While the 70s generation act responsibly to ensure a good life for their families, the 80s generation handle the pressure with an increased need to relax from it. As one person in our research, Mindy, 25 years old, puts it: “People always say the 80s generation spend more than they earn. But a house is so expensive; we can not afford one, so why don’t we just enjoy life and spend on other things now!” The 80’s group is open to change, always on the lookout for new and fresh things. Preferences and loyalties tend to change quickly.

Career advice is of particular interest
Most things that are of interest to the post 80s have to do with friends and peers. Their best time is spent together with people, trying out new things that reflect hot trends, “in” restaurants, shopping or playing video games. The importance of friends and peers also has another result: this generation is extremely competitive and pays attention to status symbols, since they perceive themselves as being in a context where they are constantly ranked in comparison with others. Topics concerning careers or career advice stood out as being of particular interest to this generation.

The computer is a social hub
In stark contrast to their 70s brothers and sisters, the 80s generation grew up with computers and the internet. The computer is therefore their social and information hub. When they come home, they will immediately turn on the computer to chat with friends and look for current trends and news. They rely on print media for information, however; much like the 70s generation, TV is only for entertainment purposes and they don’t see it as a major information source.



Time saver



Social arena



Extension of self

Follow trends but loyalties change quickly

Levi’s targets Chinese white-collar workers
In 2009, Levi’s wanted to target consumers born in the 80s using a new Levi’s sub brand. Both whitecollar workers and students are under huge life pressure, so working with Levi’s we knew that creating a relaxing, enjoyable and happy brand image would increase brand preference among the target group. We proposed to position the new brand as reflecting current trends and target consumer lives and values instead of pioneering new ones. Also, it put great emphasis on appreciating friendship rather than the individual, as well as leveraging celebrities with high credibility in the target group. The launch event was designed as a high-level, celebrity-packed fashion show with a party theme that tied in to the concept of “friends” and “togetherness”. This was followed up with consumer engagement events and consumer seeding on campus, again acknowledging the huge impact of friends on this group of consumers.

The 80s are aggressive and goal-driven. They see themselves as “individualistic” but in fact, they are far from being rebellious; they tend to follow trends, and create self-expression within accepted rules. Like the masses in Monty Python’s Life of Brian, they are “all individuals – but in the same way”. The 80s generation choose trends to follow rather than creating trends themselves. Tong, 25, talks about Lady Gaga: “I like Lady Gaga’s music, not her dress. It’s too shocking (雷 ), regular people won’t wear it”

Tong’s quotation about Lady Gaga illustrates another important topic in understanding the differences between the three generations: language. Tong’s slang word雷 , lei, literally means thunder, but is a common expression for “unbelievable” in the 80s generation. You would seldom hear anyone born before 1975 using this word. Each generation has a distinctive jargon, conditioned by media consumption and societal change; in order to communicate effectively, marketers need to be sensitive to using the right words as well as finding the right tone of voice. This is particularly important online, where the chat room jargon of the 90s generation can actually be difficult to understand for readers of other age groups.

MSL China Executive Whitepaper
Marketing to the Chinese 70s, 80s and 90s generations 9

The 1990s: “My Idol is Myself”
No financial pressure
The 90s generation does not yet have time for financial worries. They are still supported by their parents, and due to the one-child policy they seldom have siblings. “My idol is myself. I am my own person” The 90s generation is inspired by a spirit for adventure and the notion that “nothing is impossible.” “I want to do bungee-jumping. The most exciting bungee jumps are in New Zealand I heard, and I’m dying to go there and try it out!” - Zhou, 19 Despite this, they also admit to being inspired by opinion leaders in their own close circle of acquaintances. The 90s generation strive to be original and unique. Creativity is best when it’s your own. They try to create their own blend of arts, music, fashion and technology to arrive at interesting ideas: “I think Lady GAGA and her dress designer are super creative! How can she dress like that?! The clothing and make-up are so individual and avant-garde.”- An, 19 They are therefore more bold and provocative in the way they talk, think and dress than previous generations. “interests”. The internet is simply a place where this group hang out with friends, surf and express themselves through blogging or social networks. As mentioned above, the 90s reject the concept of “idols”. This is not to be confused with a lack of interest. Instead of idolizing celebrities, they tend to see them as people to gossip about. This generation is therefore very up to date when it comes to celebrity affairs and the lives of the famous. They are also more interested in sensational news compared to world news. When they look for specific, credible information, this generation still turns to traditional print media or books.

Want to be seen as individuals
For the group born in the 90s, the focus is “self”. As opposed to the “mass individualism” of the 80s crowd, the 90s generation is truly individualistic, having grown up with internet access in an open and cosmopolitan China. The 90s do not want to be identified as belonging to “a generation”; they prefer to be seen as individuals. When asked about idols, they claim not having any – or as Zhao, 19, puts it:

Interests and media are one and the same
For this age group, interests and media merge into one and the same; interactive media have become fully integrated into the daily lives of the post 90s generation, and is non-separable from the traditional form of

Sprite VIS launch campaign
In late 2009, MSL China was tasked with the rebranding launch of Sprite. When targeting the teenage opinion leaders of the 90s generation, we knew that they needed to be personally engaged. For this generation, it is not enough to watch things far away on a stage. They want to create their own style and express their own creativity, not just look on and admire someone else’s. We designed an online Sprite photo campaign, where consumers could upload pictures of themselves while creatively expressing the promises of the Sprite brand. These pictures were shared among their friends, allowing opinion leaders to engage and play with the brand and “make it their own” – while spreading it through peer-to-peer communication.

1970s Outlook on trends Discussion topics Follow trends

1980s Choose trends

1990s Create trends

Topics that relate to everyday life: ・Seasonal fashion ・Property prices

Topics that make one get ahead: ・Career ・Trends

Exciting topics to be shared: ・Sensations ・Gossip

The 1990s: “My Idol is Myself”

MSL China Executive Whitepaper
Marketing to the Chinese 70s, 80s and 90s generations 11

Implications for the communications professional
Communication strategy

3. Make family fun!
- The responsible and stressed out post 70s don’t have as much free time as the younger age groups. Given that their first priority will always be their family, this presents marketers with the opportunity to create fun and exciting campaigns where everyone in the household can be involved. For the post 70s, this will provide much needed relaxation while at the same time tapping in to the core values for this group. IKEA has been extremely successful in this approach.

・Accessible and trendy ・Respect need for relaxation ・Peer involvement

・High level of interaction ・Provide opportunity for self-expression

・Simple happiness ・Nothing overwhelming, gradual change preferred

4. Make use of the inborn competitiveness of the post 80s.
- The concept of “getting ahead” is big among the post 80s. They still have not defined themselves in terms of career and other signs of social standing. They live their lives among their peers and compare themselves with them. For the marketer, this is the perfect basis for all sorts of consumer competitions such as online campaigns and contests, marketing through games or features as well as collecting “points” on social network sites’ applications. Everything where the results will be visible and comparable to peers will make this group engage in the game – and therefore also with your brand.

To treat Chinese consumers as one, homogenous audience is a waste of money. Every campaign must carefully consider the gulf of differences between the different age groups. MSL China’s marketing communications team provides five operational pieces of advice for marketing and communications professionals.

1. Don’t try too hard to be trendy just because you are communicating with young people.
- The post 90s are less interested in trends created by others. They want to create the trends themselves. Many companies put too much effort into picking up trends rather than creating arenas for young people to express themselves. Also, tightly intertwined with the aim to be unique is the aim to showcase this uniqueness. This is a golden opportunity for marketing and communications specialists. With a professionally executed campaign, they can enjoy the benefits of true “peer-to-peer” marketing. This means that the target group voluntarily spreads the company’s messages to their friends. Not only is it efficient, it is also considered as having high credibility.

5. Less respect for traditional authorities creates new opinion leaders. Target them and make them your ambassadors.
- The younger the target audience, the less influenced they will be by so called “celebrity endorsers”. Instead, they will turn to the opinion leaders amongst their peers. This creates some challenges for marketers, since the new leaders of opinion may be harder to identify than the traditional celebrities. On the other hand, it creates opportunities in terms of credibility, closeness to the brand and creativity. It is possible to target the new opinion leaders by studying their communication patterns online or through focus group interviews. Our recommendation is to identify them and to build long term relationships with them. A good example is the well-known sports company which, in addition to sponsoring professional athletes, also supports the best aerobic instructors at local gyms in every strategic city.

2. Never underestimate the subtle nuances in people’s aim to be different.
- “Being different” doesn’t mean the same thing for people born in the 70s, 80s and 90s. This is something marketers need to consider when tailoring a campaign based around the uniqueness of their offerings. While the post-70s generation doesn’t want anything to create too much change, the post-80s are willing to be different as long as they are the same as their peers, whilst the post 90s strive to be truly unique and break the rules. For the marketer, this provides a good framework on how to better position companies and services.

1970s Key words Responsibility

1980s Fun

1990s Excitement

MSL China regularly publishes Executive Whitepapers with insights and comments on trends, the industry and society as a whole. To get information from MSL China or to subscribe to future whitepapers, as well as to contact us for any other matter, please send us an e-mail on or call us +86 21 5169 9311 (SH) or +86 10 8573 0688 (BJ). MSL China Executive Whitepaper November 2011 Copyright ® MSL China

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